What does racism mean? What do we understand by racial discrimination?

Terms used in connection with racism and racial discrimination

When discussing topics such as racism and racial discrimination, agreeing on the terminology (PDF, 583 kB, 03.08.2021) presents an immediate challenge, as the language used in the debate can have political and legal consequences.

In 2014, the Service for Combating Racism (SCRA) joined forces with experts from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) to produce an internal study on the key terms used when talking about racism in the national and international context: The language of racism (PDF, 801 kB, 02.03.2017, DE / FR)

The study approaches the topic from a legal perspective, exploring the ideological, political, academic and legal discourse at length. However, it can also be referred to on an ad hoc basis for information on particular terms. The following text provides a very brief overview of the terminology associated with racism and discrimination; readers looking for more detailed explanations can consult the full study.

It should generally be noted that most cases of racial discrimination in Switzerland are not ideologically motivated. Instead, they tend to be based on ignorance, vague fears, aggression, prejudice and a lack of empathy. But regardless of whether or not racist acts have any basis in ideology, efforts to eradicate racism must first and foremost recognise that racial discrimination exists – at the structural, institutional and individual level. The crucial point is to recognise the harm suffered by victims of discrimination.

However, prevention and awareness-raising does not mean pointing the finger at ‘racists’, thereby creating new scapegoats. Rather, it means creating the right conditions in everyday life to stop racial discrimination from happening. And above all, it is about developing the ability to recognise discrimination and taking continuous action to combat it.

Download the list of definitions (PDF, 583 kB, 03.08.2021).